Big 12 Conference Preview
With all of the conference realignment swirling around the Big 12 for the better part of the past year, it's finally time to start the 2011 college basketball season. With Nebraska now playing in the Big Ten, and Colorado now spending its away games along the West Coast, the conference is now down to 10 teams, with each one playing a brutal 18 game round-robin schedule. This will give the Big 12 a true champion, along with putting it's best teams through a gauntlet that should make them primed for NCAA Tournament action. While the conference may not be as strong as it usually is on a year-to-year basis, five to six teams should be dancing come March.
1. Baylor Bears
2010-2011 Record: 18-13 (7-9)
Postseason Finish: None
Head Coach Scott Drew's Baylor Bears look to make history this season, dethroning Kansas from its perch atop the Big 12. This year's team has the talent to not only win the conference, but they have the parts to make a memorable NCAA Tournament run. They display a front line that very few teams in the country can match.
Their monstrous frontcourt features five Bears who stand 6'9" or taller. Not only do they have size, but they also have star talent. The headliner of the club is soon-to-be NBA Lottery Pick Perry Jones III, who shocked everyone by sticking around Waco for his sophomore season. The athletic power forward averaged 13.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game during his freshman campaign. The scary part is, he is only scratching the surface of his potential. The 6'11" 235 pound hybrid forward possesses pure talent that very few, if any, players can match at the college level. Senior Quincy Acy will be providing more stability up front for Baylor, as well as experience. The bouncy power forward is a capable scorer and rebounder, (12.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG) as well as shot-blocker. Anthony Jones returns at small forward where the 6'10" athlete will show his versatility by using his 3-point shooting, dribbling skills, penetrating, and rebounding (5.3 RPG), while also causing serious match-up problems for opponents. Freshman Quincy Miller arrives in Waco as the program's second most heralded recruit to ever play for the school (behind Perry Jones III). The 6'9" match-up nightmare is the Bears other expected 2012 NBA Draft Lottery selection, and will use this season to showcase his skills to fans all over the country.
How far the Bears go will depend on their backcourt. The loss of the Big-12's all-time leading scorer LaceDarius Dunn will hurt, but it could end up becoming addition by subtraction. His selfishness on offense often contributed to what ended up becoming a disappoint season, and with the scoring options they have in the low-block, the Bears, more than anything, need guards who can feed the post. These responsibilities will hinge on two newcomers to the program, junior college transfer Pierre Jackson and sophomore Brady Heslip. The 5'10 Jackson arrives with the credentials of being the National Junior College Player of the Year at the College of Southern Idaho. He will be accompanied by Boston College transfer Brady Heslip, who is known for his knock-down shooting ability, which is exactly what the team will need if they want to make a run at a national championship. A.J. Walton is a significant returning piece of the puzzle. Last season, he led the team in assists and steals. Cal transfer Gary Franklin and freshman dunking phenom Deuce Bello will also provide backcourt depth.
Key Departures: LaceDarius Dunn
Notable Newcomers: Quincy Miller, Pierre Jackson, Brady Heslip, Deuce Bello, Gary Franklin
Top Returning Players: Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy, Anthony Jones, Quincy Acy, J'Mison Morgan
2. Missouri Tigers
2010-2011 Record: 23-11 (8-8)
Postseason Finish: Lost to Cincinnati 78-63 in the Round of 64
The Tigers buzz regarding this season took a significant hit in early October when power forward Laurence Bowers tore his ACL, meaning he will be shelved for the entire 2011-12 season. Losing perhaps the conference's top defensive player could have put a damper on Mizzou's season, but they return plenty of firepower from their team last season, and still will contend for a Big 12 championship.
Missouri's success hinges primarily upon senior sharpshooter Marcus Denmon. The returning first-team All-Big 12 selection from a year ago is a defensive star who also stretches defenses with his scoring prowess. He shot 50% from the field last season, with a 45% clip from three-point range. The 6'3" senior averaged 16.9 points per game last season, scored in double-figures in 30 of 34 Tiger's games, and is their main offensive option. Joining him in the backcourt is another senior, Kim English. He has had a successful career in Columbia, ranking 38th on the school's all-time scoring chart. However, last season was disappointing for him. His shooting percentage dropped considerably, and he is looking for a solid senior season to end his career with a bang. Sophomore standout Phil Pressey rounds out the talented backcourt. The 5'10" point guard had 117 assists and 61 steals last year, and should only improve this season.
With the loss of Laurence Bowers (out with an injury), the frontcourt situation is a tad murkier for the Tigers. One bright spot is Ricardo Ratliffe. The 6'8" senior won the award for Big 12 Newcomer of the Year last season, after posting averages of 10.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. He will be the main low post option for the team. Beyond Ratliffe, there's not much depth. Big man Steven Moore will do the little things on the court for Missouri, while freshman Kadeem Green and Louisville transfer George Goode will try to make up for the excruciating loss of their best interior player.
Key Departures: Justin Safford, Laurence Bowers
Notable Newcomers: Kadeem Green, George Goode
Top Returning Players: Marcus Denmon, Ricardo Ratliffe, Kim English, Phil Pressey, Michael Dixon
3. Kansas Jayhawks
2010-2011 Record: 35-3 (14-2)
Postseason Finish: Lost to VCU 71-61 in the Elite Eight
The Jayhawks reign of supremacy as a Big 12 giant will most likely be coming to an end this season. A string of seven consecutive conference titles is on the line in America's heartland, and if preseason headlines are any indication, things aren't looking good for Bill Self's squad. Leading returning scorer and assist man Tyshawn Taylor (9.5 PPG, 4.6 APG) and explosive junior guard Elijah Johnson have already been suspended for two preseason games. Not the way you want your veterans to begin their quest for a conference title.
The 6'3" Taylor was supposed to use this season to finally show America the star he could become, but off the court issues have continually saddled him. If he can finally put those issues aside, he should blossom into the Big-12 honors candidate he was always meant to be. The same can be said for Elijah Johnson. He has shown flashes of brilliance in a Kansas uniform, but hasn't quite been able to put it all together. Junior Travis Releford will also be counted upon to help in the backcourt. The 6'5 shooting guard shot 37.8% from downtown last season, and looks to improve upon that this year.
Thomas Robinson will blossom into a star this season for Kansas. The 6'9 averaged 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds a game coming off the bench last season, and he could very well come close to doubling those averages now that he is the Jayhawks main option in the post. He is an absolute warrior who is likely to be more physically and mentally tough than any other player in America. Jeff Withey, a 7-foot 235 pound junior center will be the other interior option. He hasn't done much so far in his Big 12 career since transferring from the Louisville Cardinals, but there's still time for him.
Key Departures: Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Josh Selby, Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed
Notable Newcomers: Naadir Tharpe
Top Returning Players: Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey
4. Texas A&M
2010-2011 Record: 24-9 (10-6)
Postseason Finish: Lost to Florida State 57-50 in the round of 64
This years Texas A&M Aggies return three of their five starters from last season, as well as six of their top eight scorers. New head coach Billy Kennedy received recent news of his early stages of Parkinson's disease, which obviously has been a blow to the program. However, the season still looks promising for Aggie fans, especially with star Khris Middleton back in the fold for another season in College Station.
The 6'7" 210 pound junior had a coming-out party last season, averaging 14.4 points and 5.2 rebounds a contest, while becoming A&M's main offensive option along the way. He is a surefire NBA draft pick whenever he decides to leave the Aggie program, but for now, Big 12 defenses are going to be in misery trying to contain the versatile South Carolina native. The other returning starter is David Loubeau. The 6'8", athletic forward flirted with turning pro after a successful junior season, but decided to return and form a potent one-two scoring punch inside with Khris Middleton. He was a Third-team All-Big 12 selection last season, and he is looking to at least repeat that feat this season. Also look for Kourtney Roberson and Ray Turner to wreak havoc inside for A&M.
Dash Harris will be the catalyst for the Texas A&M offense. He isn't much of a scorer, but he is steady and will do a great job of distributing the ball to the team's best scorers. Naji Hibbert, a 6'5" shooting guard is ready to assume a greater responsibility this season, and it is necessary that he does. He is a scorer who will be counted upon to help the Aggies keep pace with their talented frontcourt. Freshman Jamal Branch is a 6'3" lockdown defender who also could make a splash in the rotation. Washington transfer Elston Turner is the wildcard in College Station. With a year of practicing in the Aggies system under his belt, he could have a breakout season.
Key Departures: B.J. Holmes, Nathan Walkup
Notable Newcomers: Jamal Branch, Daniel Alexander, Jordan Green
Top Returning Players: Khris Middleton, David Loubeau, Dash Harris, Naji Hibbert, Kourtney Roberson, Ray Turner
5. Kansas State Wildcats
2010-2011 Record: 23-11 (10-6)
Postseason Finish: Lost to Wisconsin 70-65 in the Round of 32
Well Kansas State fans, the Jacob Pullen era is officially over in Manhattan. However, that doesn't mean that the Wildcats will be doomed from being successful this season. Fiery head coach Frank Martin will make sure that his team is thirsty for Big-12 championships, regardless of their personnel's star power.
With Pullen now gone, the new ringleader of the K-State offense will be 6'4" 205 pound junior Rodney McGruder. The Third-team All-Big 12 honoree averaged 11.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game last year, and his role will expand significantly this year. He is an athletic swingman with NBA potential. Sophomore Shane Southwell is expected to step-up for Kansas State this year, both offensively and defensively. He emered as a starter for the second half of last season and his game is growing by leaps and bounds. Will Spradling and Martavious Irving round out the solid backcourt for the Wildcats, one that I think will surprise a lot of people this year.
The K-State frontcourt will be anchored by Jamar Samuels. He is a rugged 6'7" 220 pound forward who has been an integral piece of the Wildcat program for the past three seasons. This year could finally be his breakout season. He averaged 8.5 points and 5.4 rebounds last year. He will be counted upon for scoring, rebounding, and solid defending. Junior transfer James Watson and 7-footer Jordan Henriquez will look to help shoulder the frountcourt load with Samuels, and redshirt freshman Nino Williams may surprise people at small forward.
Key Departures: Jacob Pullen, Curtis Kelly
Notable Newcomers: James Watson, Thomas Gipson, Omari Lawrence, Nino Williams, Jeremy Jones
Top Returning Players: Rodney McGruder, Jamar Samuels, Shane Southwell, Will Spradling, Martavious Irving
6. Texas Longhorns
2010-2011 Record: 28-8 (13-3)
Postseason Finish: Lost to Arizona 70-69 in the Round of 32
Rick Barnes is in for a tough coaching season as the Longhorns are trying to overcome a massive roster makeover. Not only did they lose Jordan Hamilton, Tristan Thompson, and Cory Joseph to the NBA, but they also lost solid contributors Gary Johnson and Dogus Balbay to graduation. However, all is not lost in Austin, as spectacular recruits also seem to surface at Texas.
J'Covan Brown is the leading returning scorer for the Longhorns. The sharpshooting 6'3" guard averaged 10.4 points per game last season in a reserve role, and that should only increase this season. He is fearless and wants the ball in his hands at the end of the game. The other backcourt position is expected to be filled by incoming McDonald's All-American and speed demon Myck Kabongo. The 6'2" 170 pound jet-quick point guard is a dribbling wizard who will have Texas fans buzzing from the get-go. Freshmen Julien Lewis, Sheldon McClellen, and Sterling Gibbs will all be looked upon to contribute in some way for Rick Barnes. Though these Longhorn guards are young, they sure are talented.
The frouncourt duties will be in the hands of inexperienced forward/centers Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene. The seniors don't bring much to the table offensively, but they can rebound and defend fairly well. Another freshman, 6'8" Jonathan Holmes, gets the nod as the expected main scoring threat in the post. He is long and athletic, beaming with tons of potential. If any one of these players has a breakout season, Texas could be the surprise of the entire Big 12.
Key Departures: Jordan Hamilton, Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Gary Johnson, Dogus Balbay
Notable Newcomers: Sheldon McClellan, Jonathan Holmes, Myck Kabongo, Sterling Gibbs, Julien Lewis
Top Returning Players: JCovan Brown, Clint Chapman, Alexis Wangmene
7. Oklahoma State Cowboys
2010-2011 Record: 20-14 (6-10)
Postseason Finish: Lost to Washington State 74-64 in NIT Second Round
In three years at Oklahoma State, head coach Travis Ford has a mediocre record of 65-37. Look for this season's record to mirror what he has done so far in Stillwater. However, the addition of mega recruit LeBryan Nash is one reason of optimism for the Cowboys.
Seasoned veterans Keiton Page and J.P. Olukemi combined to average 24.3 points per game last season, which is good news for the Oklahoma State offense. California native Cezar Guerrero, a 6'0" dribbling wizard and YouTube legend will bring immediate help to the point guard position. However, the real freshman prize will be counted upon for his instant impact at the shooting guard/small forward position...LeBryan Nash. The sturdily built 6'7" 215 pound is a future NBA player and could easily win Big 12 Freshman of the Year, as well as contend for All-Big 12 honors.
Like many other Big 12 teams, depth in the frontcourt will be a problem for Oklahoma State. The arrival of junior college All-American Phillip Jurick will give the Cowboys a big body in the middle, but nobody is sure of what else he brings to the table. Redshirt freshman Michael Cobbins is also expected to contribute. He is an athletic 6'8" 205 pound power forward. If all else fails, expect Travis Ford to slide LeBryan Nash into the frontcourt, where he will bring rebounding and a defensive presence.
Key Departures: Marshall Moses, Matt Pilgrim, Ray Penn
Notable Newcomers: LeBryan Nash, Cezar Guerrero
Top Returning Players: Keiton Page, J.P. Olukemi, Fred Gulley
8. Oklahoma Sooners
2010-2011 Record: 14-18 (5-11)
Postseason Finish: None
Lon Kruger starts his head coaching gig in Norman this season. He inherits an unproven roster with the exception of junior Andrew Fitzgerald. While this season may be a tough one for Kruger, it won't be long until he puts his imprint on the program and brings success back to OU.
In the backcourt, the Sooners bring back a talented trio. Returning starters Steven Pledger, Cameron Clark, and Carl Blair combined to average 27 points per game. If you are looking for a scorer, look no further than the 6'4" sharpshooter Pledger. In a game against Iowa State last season, he scored 38 points, good for fifth best in school history. Blair is the floor general for the team, and was third in the Big 12 last season with 4.7 assists per game. However, he also had 91 turnovers, something he definitely will need to cut down on this season. Cameron Clark is an athletic 6'6" slashing combo forward who had a standout freshman campaign last year.
The star of the frontcourt is 6'8" 250 pound bruising power forward Andrew Fitzgerald. After being thrust into the starting lineup last year, he showed that he was willing and able to carry the Sooners on his backs. He averaged 12.6 points and 5.0 rebounds and is the leading returner in points, rebounding, steals, and blocks. He will be helped by junior transfer Romero Osby. The former Top 50 national recruit and Mississippi State Bulldog is a 6'7" small forward who is capable of playing inside and out for the team.
Key Departures: Cade Davis
Notable Newcomers: Romero Osby, Sam Grooms
Top Returning Players: Andrew Fitzgerald, Steven Pledger, Cameron Clark, Carl Blair
9. Iowa State Cyclones
2010-2011 Record: 16-16 (3-13)
Postseason Finish: None
Second year coach Fred Hoiberg is already proving to be the right hire for the struggling program. He is bringing in talent that would usually never think of joining the Cyclones. Though they are looking at another season in the basement of the Big 12, ISU is headed in the right direction under Hoiberg.
The backcourt will be immediately manned by newcomers to the Iowa State program. Michigan State transfer Chris Allen is a 6'3" scorer who will provide leadership. He played in two Final Four's for the Spartans, a feat that Cyclones players can only dream of. Penn State transfer Chris Babb will also play a significant role for coach Hoiberg. He started the final 23 games of his sophomore season at PSU and made 69 3-pointers. New York City freshman Tavon Sledge could also push for time in the backcourt. The 5'9" sparkplug is a rare big-name recruit to commit to ISU.
The buzz in the frontcourt surrounds Royce White, a 6'8" 250 pound sophomore who originally enrolled at Minnesota coming out of high school. He was a nationally acclaimed Top 20 recruit, who has all the tools to develop into an NBA draft pick. With all of the new talent comes to Ames, it's hard to get a read on exactly what kind of team the Cyclones can have, but I wouldn't expect too much from them this season.
Key Departures: Diante Garrett, Jake Anderson, Jamie Vanderbeken
Notable Newcomers: Royce White, Chris Allen, Chris Babb, Tavon Sledge
Top Returning Players: Scott Christopherson
10. Texas Tech Red Raiders
2010-2011 Record: 13-19 (5-11)
Postseason Finish: None
New head coach Billy Gillespie is starting over in Lubbock, and Red Raider fans are hoping that he can resurrect the program much like he did for Texas A&M where he made a national name for himself years ago. He doesn't have much talent in the cupboard right now, but that should change once he hits the recruiting trail.
Marshall Henderson, a 6'2" Utah transfer seems primed to become the Red Raiders main scoring threat. The point guard position belongs to returning sophomore Javarez Willis, who saw action in 27 games last season.
Last season, Texas Tech ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in rebounding and defense, and they should do the same again this season. They go into this season undersized, and will have an uphill battle to climb against monster frontcourts like Baylor. Returning starting center Robert Lewandowski is a big body at 6'10 260 pounds, and posted averages of 8.5 points and 4.8 rebounds a contest last year. Incoming junior Jaron Nash should help him in the paint, especially with rebounding and defense.
Key Departures: John Roberson, Mike Singletary, Brad Reese, David Tairu, D'walyn Roberts
Notable Newcomers: Marshall Henderson, Jaron Nash, Ty Nurse
Top Returning Players: Robert Lewandowski, Javarez Willis
Top 5 NBA Prospects:
1. Perry Jones III, Baylor- The 6'11" freak athlete is capable of playing small and power forward once he gets to the NBA, provided he bulks up this season. He can handle the ball like very few forwards that are his size. His rebounding and shot-blocking skills are very advanced, and his post moves on the offensive moves are improving rapidly. This will be his last season in Waco.
2. Quincy Miller, Baylor- Though a torn ACL robbed him of his senior season, that hasn't stopped pro scouts from salivating over the Chicago native. He is a lot like his teammate, Perry Jones III. He is 6'9" but handles the ball like a shooting guard. He has court vision much like a guard, and rebounds and blocks shots efficiently. The key word right now for Miller is POTENTIAL...because he has a lot of it.
3. Khris Middleton, Texas A&M- Think of him as a poor man's Kevin Durant. He is a 6'7" lanky small forward who is at his best when scoring the basketball, but does a variety of things well. He does nothing great, but everything well. He is just beginning to scratch the surface of what he can become as a basketball player.
4. Myck Kabongo, Texas- The quickest guard to suit up for Rick Barnes since T.J. Ford was dominating the hardwood floors of the Big 12. He is a breathtaking dribbling dynamo who has court vision like very few other point guards, at any level of the game. He isn't a one-and-done college prospect, but could be heading to the NBA after just two seasons in Austin.
5.LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma State- A physical specimen. He is a 6'7" 215 pound shooting guard/small forward who can dominate a game in a variety of ways. The powerfully built Texas native has a motor that never stops, whether he is going hard to the basket, hitting long range jumpers, or locking up an opposing teams best offensive player. The kid is fun to watch, so make sure you catch him in an Oklahoma State uniform while you can, because he is likely off to the NBA after this season.
Thomas Robinson is going to be at least 4th on this prospect list when the season is done. This site gives way to much love to unproven freshman. Just as they had the Morris Twins late second round last year, they are going to mess this one up again. Thomas Robinson is going to be a lottery pick and is going to be a much more successful player then little Kabongo or Lebryan Nash who I just dont see him figuring it out. Just wait till you see Thomas Robinson dominate Anthony Davis in Kansas's first game vs Kentucky, and then he will give Jarred Sullinger a great battle a few weeks after that. Thomas Robinson is the real deal, ESPN seems to have figured that out and has them as the 9th best prospect in college basketball, this site will catch on in a few weeks.
The depature of LaceDarius Dunn from Baylor could be one of those additions by subtraction situations.